Texas Tribune 6/10/15 By Aman Batheja

Dedicating car sales taxes to the highway fund

Under a deal struck by House and Senate leaders in the Legislature’s final days, Texans will vote in November on a constitutional amendment that would dedicate a portion of future motor vehicle sales taxes to the highway fund beginning in 2019. The state will transfer 35 percent of that revenue stream’s growth beyond $5 billion beginning in 2020.

If approved, the amendment would also dedicate $2.5 billion of the general sales tax to the highway fund beginning in 2017. Both funding streams will have triggers attached to them in case of downswings in the state economy.

Since 2013, lawmakers had been seriously looking at dedicating the sales taxes currently collected on vehicle sales to road construction and maintenance. That revenue stream now flows into the state’s catch-all general revenue fund. Gov. Greg Abbott had proposed dedicating two-thirds of the sales tax collected, or more than $2 billion a year, to the highway fund.

Supporters noted that the revenue stream would grow as inflation causes the price of cars to go up in the future. Some Democrats expressed concern that dedicating such a large amount of funds to transportation would provide lawmakers fewer options to deal with other needs, such as education, in the future.

Updated: June 1, 2015

Relevant legislation

HB 469

SB 5

SJR 5

Ensuring all gas tax revenue goes to the highway fund

With the Texas Department of Transportation facing a multibillion-dollar shortfall, lawmakers this session took aim at so-called gas tax diversions.

Currently, not all of the 20-cent state gas tax that Texans pay goes to road work. But budget writers this session managed to end about $1.3 billion of those diversions, in which gas tax money was going to pay for other items, mainly the Department of Public Safety.

Under the Texas Constitution, a quarter of state gas tax revenue still goes to education. Of the revenue that does make it into the state highway fund, nearly all of it is used by TxDOT to fund road work or pay off debt.

Updated: May 31, 2015

Relevant legislation

HB 129

HB 202

HB 373

SB 61

SB 139

SB 184

Banning texting while driving

While dozens of Texas cities have passed texting-while-driving bans over the past decade, efforts to pass a statewide ban have failed repeatedly. 2015 was no exception.

State Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, has been the most outspoken supporter of a statewide ban, and has tried year after year to pass legislation outlawing it. Most other states already have a statewide law on the books.

In Texas, it is currently illegal to use a mobile device in any capacity while driving in a school zone. Drivers under 18 are also barred from texting and driving.

In the 2015 session, Craddick’s House Bill 80 would have made it a misdemeanor statewide to use a portable wireless device for reading, writing or sending a text while driving. It passed the House easily in late March, but lacked the votes needed to bring it to the Senate floor ahead of a legislative deadline.

Updated: May 25, 2015

Relevant legislation

HB 64

HB 80

HB 141

HB 214

SB 25

SB 238

Reviewing state policies on toll roads

Amid growing resistance to the state’s toll-road building boom, several lawmakers this session tried, but failed, to end the state’s use of toll roads.

However, lawmakers did increase funding for construction of non-tolled roads. They also passed some minor toll-related measures. House Transportation Chairman Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, passed House Bill 2612, which directs the Texas Department of Transportation to develop a report that includes a plan “to eliminate all toll roads” in which TxDOT contributed money to the construction.

Texas now has more than 500 miles of tolled highways. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area in particular, the proliferation of toll projects has drawn concerns that drivers soon won’t be able to make routine trips without using a toll road.

Updated: June 1, 2015

Relevant legislation

HB 565

HB 894

HB 1183

HB 1350

HB 1734

HB 1837

HB 2611

HB 2612

SB 485

SB 1240

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